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An endless struggle for rehabilitation

The people are now looking at the courts once again to come forward their saviour

Gulf News

Mumbai—The curtains may have come down on the media focus on dam affected persons whose protests of standing in neck-deep water caught the nation’s attention. But their long struggle to earn rehabilitation, what is rightfully theirs, continues amidst misery and anger against the state government. The people are now looking at the courts once again to come forward their saviour.

The media glare did work in their favour when the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government bowed down to the Jal Satyagraha protesters in Ghogalgaon, Khandwa district, by stopping the increase in water levels in Omkareswar dam. The government even heeded to their demand for compensation of land for land. But when those affected by the rising water levels in the Indira Sagar dam protested in a similar manner, a police crackdown followed and all of them were forcibly evicted from the water in Khardana village in Harda district.

“It was inhuman the way our villagers, particularly the women, were dragged out of water,” Ramvilas Rathod, a 70-year-old farmer from Khardana, told Gulf News on telephone. “Over 500 people in Khardana are affected since our homes and fields are inundated with water as a result of the rise in water levels in Indira Sagar going up from 260 metres to 262 metres.” His wheat, soya and cotton fields have gone under water but that is nothing compared to the enormous hardships faced by villagers.

The farmer described, “There is no place to sit, stand or sleep as waters have entered our homes. All of us have put up wooden makeshift stands to cook. Our children have no place to play and we fear their safety in the water. And to top it all, electricity has been cut off for the last 15 days.” He says police are keeping a close watch on Khardana and the state administration has imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (joining unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapon punishable with imprisonment). “Because of this, we are not even getting food supplies from the market.’

What is worrying the villagers is the way a survey of their homes is being conducted by state officials who are arbitrarily writing down the value of their houses as Rs 25,000, Rs 50,000 and Rs 100,000. “We are baffled by this exercise. But our stand is clear. We want land for land compensation as well as other entitlements. Out of 29 villages in Harda district, he says five are in great danger of being wiped out.

Alok Agarwal, a senior activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan told this paper, “For some years, the government kept the water levels in the Omkareshwar dam at 189 metres and Indira Sagar dam at 260. Any increase in the water levels of the reservoirs in these dams would lead to submergence of 30 villages that come under Omkareshwar and 250 villages by the Indira Sagar. A total of 8,000 and 40,000 families are being affected by these two dams.”

The government’s decision to submerge the area and thus evict the people “is not only inhuman but also illegal and unconstitutional.”

Another activist, Chittaroopa Palit, who was among the Jal Satyagrahis, says that the government’s act is a violation of the orders of the Supreme Court which, in May 2011, ruled that authorities have to allot land for land and minimum of two hectares of land well in advance of the completion of the dam construction. However, both the dams were commissioned years ago. While conceding to lowering water level in Omkareshear, MP Chief Minister Shivaj Singh Chouhan said this would affect irrigation and electricity generation.


River Narmada

River Narmada, fifth largest river in India, with a river flow length of 1312 km originates from Amarkantak in Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh and flows westwards through MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra to drain into Arabian Sea. Of the 30 dams proposed on the river, Sardar Sarovar Project and Narmada Sagar Project are the mega dams.

The Indira Sagar Project (ISP) on the River Narmada has been built 10 km from Punasa village in Khandwa district, MP, and was commissioned in 2005. The multipurpose project with an installed capacity of 1000 MW is said to have the largest reservoir in India. Its powerhouse is the second largest surface powerhouse in India.

With an installed capacity of 520 MW, the Omkareshwar, also constructed across the Narmada, is said to be one of the fastest completed hydroelectric projects in the country during 2004-2006.

Activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which has fought for rights of people affected by dams across the Narmada, say that the nearly three decades of struggle have led to land-based rehabilitation of 11,000 families in Maharashtra and Gujarat. But not one is rehabilitated in MP. Medha Patkar of NBA says, “Madhya Pradesh is locating and allocating land for investors across the globe but denies the same to the project-affected. The government forces the people to accept rocky, uncultivable or decades-old encroached land from its ‘Waste Land Bank.’” It is this callous attitude that is being challenged, she says. - P.R.